E-monograph Series. No. 23

Becoming Roman in southern Burgundy: A field survey between Autun and Bibracte in the Arroux Valley (Saône-et-Loire), 2000-2003

John Creighton1, Colin Haselgrove2, Pamela Lowther2 and Tom Moore3

with contributions from Fabienne Olmer4 and Steven Willis5

1. Dept. Archaeology, University of Reading. Email:
2. School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester. Email:
3. Dept. Archaeology, University of Durham. Email:
4. CNRS-UMR 5140, Archéologie des Sociétés Méditerranéennes, 390 avenue de Pérols, 34970 Lattes. Email:
5. Classical & Archaeological studies, University of Kent at Canterbury. Email:

Cite this as: J. Creighton et al.2009 'Becoming Roman in southern Burgundy: A field survey between Autun and Bibracte in the Arroux Valley (Saône-et-Loire), 2000-2003', Internet Archaeology 25.

Summary / Résumé

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This article presents the results of a pilot programme of fieldwork carried out between 2000-3 in the Arroux Valley in southern Burgundy close to Autun and Mont Beuvray. In the late Iron Age, this region was inhabited by the Aedui, an early ally of Rome, who had their principal stronghold at Mont Beuvray (Bibracte), high up in the Morvan. The 19th century excavations established this oppidum as a type-site for the European Iron Age, and since 1984 it has been the focus of an international research programme, which has greatly enhanced our knowledge of the site. In the Augustan period, Mont Beuvray was however replaced by Autun (Augustodunum) on the banks of the Arroux as the new civitas capital. It rapidly developed into one of the major cities of Roman Gaul and like Mont Beuvray has been the subject of extensive excavations.

Composite image of the survey

There has been far less research on rural settlement in the region. This lack of investigation has much to do with present-day land use. The Morvan used to be extensively cultivated, but nowadays is mainly pasture or woodland, severely limiting the possibilities for either aerial reconnaissance or conventional fieldwalking. Next to nothing is known about the Iron Age settlement pattern around Mont Beuvray and Gallo-Roman settlement around Autun is only slightly better attested. It would be surprising however if the hinterland of both sites was not densely settled through this period, particularly the lower-lying ground of the Arroux valley itself.

The fieldwork programme reported here was designed to test the possibility of using a combination of extensive geophysical survey and linewalking the few arable fields that exist to characterise rural settlement in the environs of these two major centres. Three micro-areas in the Arroux valley between Autun and Etang, and that of its tributary, the Celle, were selected for more detailed investigation, two of them in the commune of Monthelon, the third in Laizy. In all, a total area of 132 ha was prospected between 2000-2003 in the three micro-zones, representing just under 10% of their total areas, but nearer 15% of the area available for survey. About 80 ha (60%) was examined by fieldwalking, 62 ha (47%) by gradiometry and 11 ha (8%) by resistivity, together leading to the discovery of numerous hitherto unknown sites and scatters spanning the period from the Neolithic to the early Middle Ages, as well as enabling the better characterisation of other sites known from earlier chance discoveries. The results are presented in detail followed by an overview of the Iron Age and Gallo-Roman pottery collected at the different locations, for which a type series has been built up and linked where possible to the local reference collections from Mont Beuvray and Autun.

In the concluding section, the extent to which the results have been able to throw new light on the principal research questions posed at the outset of the project are assessed. These were as follows: (1) what was the nature of Iron Age settlement in the area prior to the foundation of Mont Beuvray? (2) is there any evidence of a reduction in the number of later Iron Age rural sites at the period when the oppidum was occupied, as happens in regions such as the Auvergne and Picardy? (3) how does Gallo-Roman settlement vary through time or with distance from Autun? (4) do rural site numbers and/or visibility in the early and later Empire follow similar trends to other parts of the Roman west? (5) is there any evidence for precocious Roman cultural expression at rural sites in the region similar to that seen on Mont Beuvray itself? As a result of this work, a series of preliminary suggestions can now be offered, although to answer all the questions in full would require a far more extensive programme of survey.

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